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Civil Rights Advocates Fight Back Against Arizona's Racial Profiling Law

Adela de la Torre, communications manager at the National Immigration Law Center, sends us this. 

The civil rights issues at the heart of S.B. 1070, Arizona’s notorious racial profiling law, finally had their day in court Tuesday. After more than two years of legal challenges mounted by our civil rights coalition and the federal government, we, along with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), MALDEF and others, presented evidence of what we all already know: S.B. 1070 was written with the intent to discriminate against Latinos and other people of color. This evidence was introduced as part of a request that the district court consider additional legal grounds that were not before the U.S. Supreme Court when it determined that section 2B of S.B. 1070, which forces police officers to demand “papers” of those they suspect are in the country without proper authorization, should be allowed to go into effect.

At issue before the court is whether S.B. 1070’s “papers” provision should be allowed to go into effect. Although the Supreme Court upheld this provision when it issued a ruling on the U.S. Department of Justice’s case in June, the court noted that its opinion of this provision was limited to the narrow legal argument made by the Justice Department, effectively reminding Arizona and others that the Constitution has no tolerance for laws that violate civil rights.

These civil rights arguments are now before the district court in Arizona, which could decide to continue blocking this section of S.B. 1070, allow the provision to go into effect, or request that state courts better define what it means to “reasonably suspect” that someone lacks proper immigration status.

Anyone who has read quotes from former Arizona state Sen. Russell Pearce knows that he has made attacks against the use of foreign language and against immigrants his flagship issues. In the courtroom yesterday, we exposed the depths of his xenophobic attitudes through a series of e-mails, which were deemed indefensible even by the state’s attorneys. These e-mails should send a shiver down the spine of anyone who believes that the content of one’s character, and not the color of one’s skin, is what matters most. In one e-mail, Pearce complains that the arrival of Spanish speaking immigrants is like “importing leper colonies and hope we don’t catch leprosy.” These e-mails provided the court with a snapshot of the racial animus behind the creation of S.B. 1070.  

If allowed to go into effect, section 2B of S.B. 1070 would fulfill Pearce and others’ xenophobic dreams by providing the legal backing to treat Arizonans of color differently from their neighbors and friends. This type of law isn’t just un-American, it’s unconstitutional. Regardless of how the court rules in this case, we believe that laws like Arizona’s S.B. 1070 will not stand up to long-term legal or moral scrutiny. Until that day comes, we’ll keep fighting to ensure that all Arizonans, no matter where they were born or how they communicate, receive equal protection under the law. 

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